Why You Should Verify Potential Employee References

February 2017

You’ve completed a series of interviews with an impressive candidate who seems perfect for the job, and you’re sold. Is it really necessary to check references before extending the offer?

Verifying references often is the last step that business owners and hiring managers take before bringing a new employee on board. In many cases, reference checking is viewed as a mere formality and receives minimal time or attention. After all, the logic goes: Any references supplied by a candidate likely will give only glowing reviews.

The truth is, reference verification should play an important role in consideration of candidates who make it beyond the early stages of your hiring process. Here are three reasons why it’s critical that you verify references before making a job offer.

1. Catching Falsehoods

Your background verification process goes a long way toward confirming facts that prospective employees present in their resumes, on their applications and in interviews. However, background screenings may not catch everything.

People who know an applicant may be in a position to provide you with information about multiple factors that can impact how a prospective employee may or may not fit with your organization. Past employers, especially, typically can help verify basic facts like dates of employment, positions held and the duties that accompanied them, and the types of work performed.

Some past employers will go even further, providing you with valuable information on your applicant’s work style and behaviors. After you’ve spent some time getting to know your applicant — through provided information and interviews — you may find that a past employer supplies you with information that indirectly confirms or refutes what the candidate has told you.

For example, if a candidate has touted certain attributes such as acting as a team player or going above and beyond job duties, you can ask a past employer how the individual demonstrated those traits in the past.  In addition, an often-telling question to ask is, “Would you hire this employee again?” Many employers will give you an enthusiastic “yes,” but hesitation in answering also can provide you with valuable information.

If past employers seem reticent, you can let them know that in most states, information they provide is protected unless they know it’s false or they provide it while recklessly ignoring the truth.

2. Verifying Trustworthiness and Reputation

In the hierarchy of important references to check, past bosses reign supreme, and you should consider it a warning sign if a candidate offers you only former colleagues as references rather than past employers.

However, personal references other than supervisors also can provide you with valuable information.

Job applicants know that employers often don’t bother to check references due to the pervasive idea that listed references are simply friends of the candidate. In fact, some candidates are counting on you not to check their references.

If you opt to communicate with personal references other than past employers, try to call rather than emailing. You may be able to glean subtle but important information by phone that you wouldn’t get solely via text communication. To avoid claims of discrimination, ask only questions that relate to the position for which your candidate has applied. Before you call, be sure to have the applicant sign a release; the reference may want such authorization in place before speaking to you.  Also, note whether the references your candidate provides represent his or her entire work history. Are there certain jobs for which he or she hasn’t offered references? Don’t be afraid to ask for additional names if you uncover gaps in a candidate’s history.

3. Protecting Your Company From a Bad Hire

Many job applicants have mastered the art of painting a compelling portrait of themselves, but how does that presentation stack up to reality?

Ultimately, all the steps in your employment verification — including conducting reference checks — should help you confirm that an applicant has been honest through the hiring process and will be a good fit with your company.

Once you’ve verified references and completed your background screening process, it’s important to document the steps you’ve taken in case a claim of negligent hiring arises in the future. If an employee causes an accident or other harm, you may need to show that you did all you reasonably could to verify the employee’s background.

Get Professional Assistance With Reference Verification

Throughout your employment verification process, it’s important to use consistent practices that satisfy all applicable laws. Global Verification Network assists business owners, hiring managers and other HR professionals with verifying credentials that give you confidence in a candidate’s fitness for employment.  For more information about our services or to request a quote for reference verification, please contact Global Verification Network.


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